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Author Holds a Funeral for Her Failed Writing Career

As I was typing the title, I wondered if publication magically transforms a manuscript into a book. In any event, a recent NewYorker column pointed out that author Mary Patrick Kavanaugh, after 16 rejections decided to hold a funeral for her “dream of a writing career.”

On Saturday, a California woman whose autobiographical novel was rejected by sixteen publishers hosted a funeral for her dream of a writing career, at which "attendees viewed the failed manuscript, rejection letters, refinance papers, useless MFA in creative writing, and the author’s much watched DVD copy of "The Secret.’"

Her hopes of a writing career appear to rest on the success of her self publishing effort. I think there’s an inherent conflict between her “my dream is dead” and the fact that she is still publishing, but insert your own phoenix/ashes saying here.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Gennita Low
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 09:34:48

    Quick reactions:

    1) Darn it, watching The Secret didn’t work?
    2) Maybe it’s the story of her life that’s not selling, not her writing.
    3) The refinance papers viewing should draw a crowd
    4) Only sixteen rejections?
    5) I think she should post her first page here at DA!

    How many times should one watch The Secret anyway? I received that as a Christmas gift last year and haven’t even taken it out of its case.

  2. Kathryn Smith
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 09:37:43

    What Gennita said (waving ‘hi’ to Gennita!)

    You don’t give up after one failed book. Come on.

  3. katiebabs
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 09:55:58

    I read The Secret and watched the video. What a joke!!

  4. Katrina Strauss
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 10:08:04

    I don’t know about her strength as a writer, but she’s got the promo hook down!

  5. Mistress
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 10:14:55

    Ditto with the ladies above.

    Also, it’s really ballsy to come out the publishing gate with an autobiography. If your life isn’t full of extreme feats and exciting win, or people already acquainted with your work aren’t clamoring for more details….what’s the point?

    The “funeral” just comes off as a shameless act of self promotion IMO instead of the mourning of a dream. The world is a harsh place and yes; some brilliant voices get silenced, but some just suck or need more finishing. I’m sorry but reading is way too expensive an addiction for me to buy books due to pity.

  6. Alice
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 10:52:52

    What everyone already said (especially Katiebabs, The Secret was so eyerolls for me) and if 16 rejections constitutes as end of a dream, how many great authors wouldn’t be published now if they had stopped at 16 rejections?

    It feels more like self promo.

  7. Deb Kinnard
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 10:55:44

    The name of this game is perseverance. Lack of determination never got anyone’s MS sold. Giving up sure never helped for mine.

    And Author, do you know how many people start to write a book and never finish? You wrote “The End” on yours (though how you do that on an autobiography, when you’re not dead yet, never fails to mystify me), which is more surely the fulfillment of a dream than selling your project. How many writer-wannabes would salivate over the chance to finish a book?

    Suck it up, say I, and try again with something more marketable. Then have a celebration party instead.

  8. Shiloh Walker
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 11:04:02

    I’m thinking clever self-promo.

    16 rejections really isn’t that much. There are plenty of writers who get rejected for years before they finally get an offer. It’s all a matter of timing and getting the right editor to see your work…well, that and being able to tell a story.

  9. Anion
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 11:13:52

    Oh, geez. This is the sort of thing that irritates the shit out of me. Was her dream to be a writer, or a “Bestselling Author”? Did she even bother to attempt to get an agent, since any moron knows you need one to submit to most of the big houses? Did she even attempt to go for small presses who might be interested in her book? Did she read any published books? Did she get anyone to critique her writing and thus find out that her first chapter is one long, dull set of cliches (which it is)? Is this the only book she’s got in her?

    It is a clever marketing idea, yes. But seriously…just because you wrote a book doesn’t mean you deserve to have it published.

    *is in a bad mood anyway*

  10. Meljean
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 11:18:01

    I really wanted to be a superhero, but no way am I burning that towel I used as a cape.

    *limps away after jumping off the roof for the sixteenth time*

  11. Gennita Low
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 11:42:04


    Like publishing, there is a secret trick to jumping off the roof…;-)

    //waving back at Kathryn Smith

  12. Lori
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 12:59:56

    I think its funny and she’s clever as hell. Her website and the funeral seemed to be tongue in cheek. I think she’s turned a great sense of humor into a wonderful marketing ploy. More power to her.

  13. Jill Myles
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 13:18:30

    Apparently she sent invites out to editors, who did not find it nearly as cute:

  14. Emily
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 14:13:10

    Family Plots is touted as a fresh and funny autobiographical novel

    … I think I found her problem.

  15. Meljean
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 14:14:32

    @Jill Myles: I can see why it would be annoying to an editor, and I agree: passive-aggressive (especially as she then went the self-publishing route.)

    The website made me laugh (in a good way). I’m not interested in the book, but she’s obviously getting noticed (and I think in her case, the old “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is holding true).

  16. Jill Myles
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 15:01:29

    To be fair (i’ve been using that phrase a lot lately), it IS a cute concept, kind of like sending the anniversary card to the manuscript in the slush pile like someone did to Tor.

    Problem is, there’s a fine line between “Isn’t this cute and clever?” and “Isn’t this obnoxious?” and this one over-shot, a little. Especially since it was previously submitted to that editor.

    It is very attention getting, though. :)

  17. MD
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 15:34:13

    I don’t think I’d care to read the autobiography of a quitter.

  18. theo
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 15:41:42

    Oh please! Only 16 rejections? Like only 16 is the end of the world? What about the authors that work for ten years, polishing and tweaking and writing new ms’s and received a hundred or more rejections before that one agent sees the worth in their work?

    And she sends invites to the publishers who rejected her? WTH? If they’ve already rejected her, I don’t know they’d care about her so-called funeral. If she really wanted to use it as a marketing ploy, the least she should have done is invited publishers who hadn’t read it yet.

    Woman’s got to get over herself already.

    An aside:

    Deb Kinard! This comment

    You wrote “The End” on yours (though how you do that on an autobiography, when you're not dead yet, never fails to mystify me), which is more surely the fulfillment of a dream than selling your project.

    made me SO glad I didn’t have a mouthful of my coffee! It would have been all over my laptop!


  19. Erastes
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 15:44:51

    Joining in with the chorus of “Wuss! SIXTEEN?” I’m tempted to rewrite the Monty Python sketch “Four Yorkshiremen”

    “Sixteen rejections? Eh, you were lucky! In my day we had to carry our manuscripts on our back, handwritten in quill in 25 wooden boxes and get whipped while the editor laughed at our pathetic prose, then had to carry them home, still bleeding.”

    “Still bleeding? Eh, you were lucky!”

    And so on.

  20. MCHalliday
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 16:42:32

    it IS a cute concept, kind of like sending the anniversary card to the manuscript in the slush pile like someone did to Tor.

    That was truly brilliant and the ‘nudge note’ done with such humour, Sandra McDonald’s ms was immediately found! Further reading on rejections is suggested to Ms. Kavanaugh…particularily the tale of the returned ms with vomit on it!

  21. Anion
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 17:21:28

    I don't think I'd care to read the autobiography of a quitter.

    *Gasps* MD, I just totally fell in love with you.

  22. Ann Somerville
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 17:34:52

    MD, I just totally fell in love with you.

    “Dear Author, for all your lesbian dating needs”


  23. Anion
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 18:25:54


    Some enchanted evening…over at Dear Author…

  24. Ryshia Kennie
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 22:50:34

    That’s all rather sad or maybe not, depending on her angle. If she’s really giving writing up I hope she had another dream and this was just a blip in her destiny.

    Of course, again there is the promo angle… but I won’t go there.

  25. Sparky
    Dec 11, 2008 @ 08:29:08

    Wow, I don’t think there are enough tiny violins in the world for this author. She literally had an official pity party. It takes some gall to organise an event where everyone can gather round, say “there there” and boost your ego.

    Because it’s either a pity party or a monumental snit. I don’t know which I’d prefer

  26. Jackie Kessler
    Dec 11, 2008 @ 13:18:29

    Sixteen rejections, huh?

    She may also want to go to her dermatologist, because it sounds like her skin may be perilously thin.

  27. Mike Brendan
    Dec 11, 2008 @ 19:34:02

    Sixteen rejections, only one manuscript and she’s declaring her career dead?


  28. Michele Lee
    Dec 11, 2008 @ 19:45:56

    I’m with Mike. Wah. That she invited the editors who rejected makes it not promo but pity in my book.

  29. Fionn J.
    Dec 11, 2008 @ 20:12:25

    Damn. Only 16 rejections? Wish I only had 16 rejects to deal with. Would make my writing ego a helluva lot less deflated.

  30. MD
    Dec 12, 2008 @ 00:41:25

    *Gasps* MD, I just totally fell in love with you.

    What a nice compliment.=) And I’ve always enjoyed your posts, which makes it even nicer.

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    Dec 12, 2008 @ 02:15:15

    […] Dear Author recently highlighted a story about a writer, the author of an autobiography who, after sixteen rejections, “hosted a funeral for her dream of a writing career”. […]

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    Dec 12, 2008 @ 06:32:18

    […] Dear Author we hear of a woman who’s held a funeral for her failed writing carrer.  When I read the post […]

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  34. Mary Patrick Kavanaugh
    Dec 12, 2008 @ 22:35:08

    My, my, my. This is so juicy. But you guys are kind of mean too. Just to clarify, the writer threw a funeral for her dream of landing a big publishing contract. What writer can stop writing? But it’s also true, that I own and watched The Secret. I live in California. Where do you all live? I’m Irish and don’t drink and come from a long line of mental illness. Those of us who don’t live in state run facilities that have jackets with no sleeves find other ways to make scenes. But really folks, I did the whole thing because it was fun, it made me feel better, it gave my talented musical friends a stage, it gave others an outlet to dump the crap in their lives AND OF COURSE for self promotion. I think writers can feel okay about self promotion. Even if Big Daddy publisher does the design and distribution for you, there’s about a three month shelf life. Same goes for my little shenanigans here. Time for us to pound our chests, help each other out, have a bit of a laugh, and stop arguing for each others limitations (That’s most likely from The Secret.)

    I must say thanks to those of you who got my joke up there in blog comment land. I was thrilled when I reached comment #12. (Mom? Was that you in alias?) And to the one who made a crack about giving up a dream to be a superhero, that’s great because there is actually a section in my virtual graveyard for JUST THAT DEAD DREAM.

    Thanks for the lively read! This is wild, as the blog world is new to me. (And really, if you had been at the funeral, you would have had fun. Best ever.)

    Rest in peace,
    Mary Patrick Kavanaugh

  35. Ann Somerville
    Dec 12, 2008 @ 22:52:26

    Just to clarify, the writer threw a funeral for her dream of landing a big publishing contract.

    Sockpuppet FAIL.

    I'm Irish and don't drink and come from a long line of mental illness.

    Nice to meet you, Mary of the clan McMental.

    I think writers can feel okay about self promotion.

    Yeah, but most of us don’t need to promote the fact we’re crazy and not very successful.

    So far as I can tell from what I’ve read of the Secret, it involves sitting around and wishing really, really hard for an angel to get its wings stuff that usually involves hard graft and talent. Well, like the joke says, “Meet me half way. At least buy a lottery ticket!”

    Rest in peace

    That would be really cute, if it wasn’t so creepy.

  36. Paul Bens
    Dec 14, 2008 @ 15:42:01

    I actually found this “my dream is dead…” very clever promotion and actually considered buying the book…until I stopped by here and got the rest of the story. It is one thing to come up with clever self promotion (and, c’mon, it is clever). But the invitations to the editors that rejected the MS? Passive aggressive might even be a tame term for it, and that is what pushes it from clever self promo into annoying, whiny writer land.

    And the comment above….”I come from a long line of mental illness…” Sigh. OK. Joke or not, this is almost becoming writer cliche. Writer crosses a line and claims they suffer from [insert malady here]. #1, we all have our crosses to bear, some mental, some not; #2, if the above “mental illness” was joke, it was particularly funny; and #3, having [insert malady, physical or mental, here] does not in any way serve as justification for anything. I once worked with a well-known actor who every time he did or said something nasty to someone, he’d pull out the “I’m a recovering alcoholic” proclamation as an excuse. It was used so often that it got to the point that the staff considered getting him a tee-shirt that said “You’ll have to excuse my behavior, I’m a recovering alcoholic.” I know plenty of talented writers, musicians, actors, etc. who suffer from mental illness or are abuse survivors or are recovering alcoholics who don’t in any way feel it necessary to use such facts as excuses for their behavior. Playing those “cards” (for lack of a better term) as excuses does a disservice to all who do suffer from these things and are managing to do amazing things, artistically and personally.

    Heh…I went way off topic, I think.

    Soapbox dismantled.

  37. Paul Bens
    Dec 14, 2008 @ 19:06:31

    #2, if the above “mental illness” was joke, it was particularly funny

    The above was supposed to be…”#2, if the above “mental illness” was joke, it was not particularly funny.”

  38. Missi
    Dec 14, 2008 @ 20:18:31

  39. Jennifer McKenzie
    Dec 14, 2008 @ 21:11:45

    It might be my sense of humor, but I was kind of amused. It’s not MY style, but so what?
    But I LOVED what Erastes said about rewriting the Yorkshire men.

    “When I began in publishing, you had to have five scathing rejections before they’d even remove you from the SLUSH pile!!”

    “Aye, and even then you’d get a form letter.”

    And so on.

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